In golf terms, I have no interest in debating the cause of climate change, but something’s happening, and Mother Nature is in no mood to debate, either. She’s going to do what she does, regardless of our analysis, and it really doesn’t matter to her whose fault it is. Our job is to pay attention in case we need to respond or jump out of the way, and that time seems to be rapidly approaching Those who manage golf courses are attentive to weather, fire, seismic, and sea patterns in a way many are not. Their very bread and butter is affected daily by nature’s whims. Whether or not it’s happening through the whole solar system, or just at the local municipal, more courses are mandated to make more aggressive responses.
I was jolted by recent pictures of Montrose Golf Links in southeastern Scotland. With so many links courses on the coast, Britain is in the cross-hairs, but Pebble Beach and Bandon might want to pay attention as well. We are familiar with forest fires threatening courses. We know that earthquakes are a natural hazard throughout fault zones around the globe. However, Montrose reminded me of the rising sea levels and its power to eat coastlines. In a recent storm, the historic course had its second hole covered by a deep layer of sand. The sea is now more than 200 feet closer to the course than it was three years ago. Storm Deirdre was proof that humans had better break out that talent of adaptation we’re always crowing out, and do something…adaptive. Argue climate change as we will, the whatever we call it is coming for us. Industrial blowers are on their way for Montrose while bunkers must be dug out, but the profile for each type of terrain will be a different story.
Many course managers are searching for way to deal with extremes of climate, and the trouble some changes bring. One example is a type of grass with a greater resistance to heat and drought, sea walls and the like, but what can one do when the only alternative is to move? Britain is faced with losing some of its most historic sites, or at the least being required to alter them severely – and it isn’t just Britain or California. Washington state just saw its first destructive tornado in 32 years and the eastern portion of the North American continent is waterlogged. Don’t even start about the Maldives – they will be toast soon, if sea rise continues. It will endanger virtually all coastal and island courses not built on inland heights or at least tall cliffs – that, provided the cliffs haven’t fallen into the sea yet from the force of erosion.
For Britain, there is little stomach in government for going to war against nature, and that’s probably a good idea. The sea is still bigger than we are. Already, Devon’s 8th tee is at the bottom of one of those cliffs. We know because the sign washed up there.. Sheringham of Norfolk has already moved greens as the cliffs collapse. Bancaster of Norfolk has taken over a million pounds in nature damage, while landslides have flowed across Cullen and Moray Firth. The Aberdeenshire courses have been inundated by the river bursting its banks, including the Ballater, Peterculture, Deeside, and the Paul Lawrie Golf Center.
Dearly as I love the traditions of golf, especially grand old courses, there may come a time when we must shift our emphasis to new designs, sites, materials and other protections against a changing climate. That could also mean allowing some of the nostalgia to go the way of all things. We had to part company with Santa and safe penny stocks, so we can do this. It’s a shame that nature doesn’t necessarily appreciate the great game the way we do, but we are still guests on the planet, and will have to make do.